I’ve been a fan of actor Viggo Mortensen since he played the would be king, Aragorn, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category this year, for his role in the unconventional film, Captain Fantastic. This day of nonstop thunderstorms and torrential rainfall provided the opportunity to see this film for the first time, via Amazon Prime.
Captain Fantastic stars Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Trin Miller, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella and Ann Dowd. The comedy drama was written and directed by Matt Ross and has a run time of 1 hour and 58 minutes. The movie is rated R for language and brief nudity. Captain Fantastic received one Oscar nomination, Best Actor, for Mortensen. He did not win.
Ben Cash (Mortensen) and his wife Leslie (Miller) have made the decision to go off the grid and raise their family of six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The three boys and three girls, Bodevan (MacKay), Rellian (Hamilton), Nai (Shotwell) and Kielyr (Isler), Vespyr (Basso), and Zaja (Crooks), are homeschooled through broad reading and lively discussions and vigorous physical exercise.
The children are not only well read and speak multiple languages, they know how to hunt and raise their own food, handle medical emergencies and play musical instruments. All seems idyllic, however Leslie suffers from a bipolar disorder. Ben hopes living in the wilderness will help her heal, but her condition worsens until Leslie must be hospitalized. While under medical care, she commits suicide.
Leslie’s wealthy parents (played by Langella and Dowd) bring their daughter’s body to New Mexico for a traditional funeral and burial, against Leslie’s final wishes, and against Ben’s wishes as well.
Although he is threatened with arrest if he shows up at the funeral, Ben and his children risk leaving the forests and entering into mainstream society to carry out their mission of rescuing Leslie. The free spirited children experience their first encounters with fast food and soda pop, technology such as video games and corporate America, and family members who don’t understand their way of life.
Ben clashes with everyone, from his sister and brother-in-law (Hahn and Zahn) to his upset in-laws, who threaten to turn him in for child abuse due to his unconventional parenting style. Ben must look honestly and deeply within, questioning his core beliefs and deciding what’s right for his family, while grieving his wife and trying to carry out her last wishes.
This was a beautifully quirky film that touched my heart. At the center of this story is a family choosing how they want to perceive the world, and honoring those beliefs, while not caring how others perceive them. It was definitely appealing to me, the idea of living surrounded by nature and in a self sustaining way.
I smiled over the intelligence of the kids who were treated with respect and spoken to with openness and honesty. And I applauded many of their choices, especially around education and healthy eating. “What’s cola?” asks Zaja. “Poison water,” answers her dad. The children are allowed to dress as they want, which draws many stares at the funeral. And their names are deliberately unique, to reflect their own uniqueness in the world.
It takes a wise and loving father to realize that there comes a time when he must listen to his growing children and consider their emerging beliefs. Ben is such a father. Watching him make decisions in the best interest of his kids was poignant bringing tears to my eyes.
The subject of mental illness was handled well along with who is responsible for the difficult choices sometimes made by those suffering such disorders.
Viggo well deserved his nomination. I confess I was glad to see him shave off the wooly beard so I could catch a glimpse of “Aragorn”. Ranger or off the grid thriver, Viggo delivers powerful and moving performances.
This family’s motto was “We are defined by our actions, not our words.” These are true words to reflect on, while I also reflect on this thoughful film. Big thumbs up for Captain Fantastic.
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